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Ben Leber: Vikings Need to Be ‘Tougher’

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April 16, 2019

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Ben Leber has transitioned successfully into broadcasting, and unlike many former athletes who speak into a microphone, the ex-Vikings linebacker talks honestly to his audience. As a sideline radio reporter at Vikings games and college football TV analyst, Leber is informative and fun to hear because of his candid approach.

Leber retired from the NFL in 2012 after 10 seasons but remains an authority on the Vikings. Minnesota had a disappointing 8-7-1 record last season and failed to make the playoffs after summer predictions included the team among Super Bowl favorites. What do the Vikings need to do to be better in 2019?

Leber’s answer that the Vikings need to be “tougher” may surprise some fans because the club has built its reputation with defense and is led by demanding fifth-year head coach Mike Zimmer. But Leber told Sports Headliners the Purple took a step back last year from where they had been on both defense and offense.

“I think there needs to be an attitude and a stigma that’s set early on in the (2019) season that they have to play a ferocious and intimidating style,” Leber said. “I think everybody knows they will be well coached in Xs and Os, (but) now I think they need to take it to another level and…be the dogs on the field. Be the guys that people are afraid of. I don’t think that they struck fear in anybody last year.”

Leber believes the Vikings had an intimidating identity in 2017 when they went 13-3 in the regular season and won their first playoff game in the 2018 postseason. Leber said foes were “scared” of the defensive unit, and they over game planned about how to deal with Minnesota’s No. 1 ranked NFL defense. But in the NFC title game against the Eagles, things changed. Here is Leber’s analysis of why the Vikings experienced an embarrassing 38-7 loss costing them the opportunity to play in the 2018 Minneapolis Super Bowl:

“Philadelphia basically said, we don’t care who your stars are. We don’t care what the public thinks and what the media thinks. We’re going to attack those guys and put them in vulnerable situations, and they did.

“I think that (approach by opponents) carried over…and that’s what you saw this last year (2018). Early in the season the defense especially—just sort of scrambling to try to readjust itself—that the teams were attacking them so directly.”

In Leber’s view the offense also needs “to scare people in the run game.” Running back Dalvin Cook, whose first two seasons in the NFL have been limited by injuries, could play a major success role for the Vikings because he has big play potential that few NFL rushers possess. “Anything that makes Dalvin a true weapon where defenses have to worry about a home run shot with him, that’s a threat,” Leber said.

Perception can be reality, and Leber said the likelihood of the Vikings making consistent and productive plays in the run game is important. The benefit is that when defenders respect the run, play action passes are more likely to succeed, receivers have a better chance to get open and the offense simplifies for quarterback Kirk Cousins.

In addition to broadcasting, Leber is active speaking to groups, particularly corporations. He was raised in small towns in Iowa and South Dakota, and he shares a message with audiences about experiences in early life and growing into a man.

“I would say the biggest thing that I try to drive home is football wasn’t easy for me,” Leber said about his speaking assignments. “Not because of the physical aspect of it, but because of the self limitations that I put on myself, and I think that can apply to everything.

“I grew up listening to the labels that I came from a place…where people in a small town don’t succeed. I came from a place where people like to place labels on people, and I walked away going off to college believing those things. Almost holding myself back because I was sort of scared to succeed… .”

More on Leber at Benleber.com.

Worth Noting

Strength coaches have become so important in the development of college football players that the April 8 issue of Sports Illustrated devoted five pages to their impact on programs. The magazine reported Iowa’s strength coach earns $725,000 annually, while Clemson’s makes $600,000.

In this year’s NFL selection of college talent Iowa tight ends Noah Fantz and T.J. Hockenson, three-star recruits out of high school, are expected to go early in next week’s draft. They both will be among 23 prospects expected to attend the draft in Nashville.

The Vikings might be happy drafting either Fantz or Hockenson, and begin a transition from eight-year starter Kyle Rudolph.

Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco is hitting .420 so far this season, batting .425 left-handed and .400 right-handed. In his last 36 games dating back to September 5 of last year he is hitting .361.

Since their sold out home opener on March 28, the Twins have drawn five crowds of between 11,000 and 17,000 for their games at Target Field. In 2010 when the club moved into the new stadium, season tickets were about 26,000 but now are probably closer to 10,000.

The Twins didn’t bring back their 2018 slogan of “This is how we baseball.”

A  source emailed that 2019 Mr. Basketball Matthew Hurt from Rochester John Marshall will announce his college choice on Friday, and he predicted it will be Kansas.

Tre Jones

Another destination for Hurt could be Duke where Apple Valley’s Tre Jones has decided to pass on the NBA Draft and return to the Blue Devils for his sophomore season. Jones made 26.2 percent of his three-point shots last season. “That’s not good,” a pro basketball evaluator said.

Former Timberwolves general manager Billy McKinney is the newly elected mayor in Zion, Illinois.

Bloomington chiropractor Jeffrey Smidt on what recreational golfers might consider before taking their first swings of the spring: “A proper warm-up with some light stretching and moving the club in the normal range of motion at a slow speed. Start with some chips and work up, and then work back down.”

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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